So this is the new Ford Focus RS is it? Seems it's created quite the stir.
Oh yes. Talk about much hype and incredible expectation long before its Australian arrival last month. The USA and Europe's had the car a few months now and their motoring press and performance Ford buyers have gone a bit bonkers with the praise. First reports from Down Under too have been rather positive. Looks like it's one of those instant classics.
So what's its secret?
In a nutshell, affordable brilliant performance. At $50,990 before on-roads it's the most affordable RS model ever offered to Australian customers. It uses a twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder engine good for 257kW and 440Nm - or 470Nm for up to 15 seconds on overboost during hard acceleration.
It uses a very smart all-wheel drive system to ensure that despite all that performance you'll stay on the black stuff unless you do something really silly. And get this. No automatic gearbox. You want one you're getting a six-speed self-shifter and three pedals for proper driver involvement. Purists rejoice.
Indeed. It sounds like a bit of a hot hatch on steroids then?
The Europeans have coined the phrase Mega Hatch, and that seems to suit the epic performance and talent of the likes of this Ford Focus RS, the Mercedes-AMG A45 or Audi RS3.
So you're comparing a blue collar Ford to the prestige German hatches now, even though they're over $25k more?
Interestingly, the Focus RS is built in Ford's German factory by the way. Its power figure puts it close to these costlier Germans, and its 0-100kmh time of 4.7-seconds isn't far off the Benz and Audi. The Ford's similarly-priced all-wheel-drive rivals would be your Volkswagen Golf R and Subaru WRX STI: fun and very capable cars indeed but they may well be left in the Focus RS's dust.
Okay, let's cut to the chase. These Fords got some negative press from the scaremongering brigade about something called Drift Mode.
To the naughty corner Ford, if we listen to the safety groups. Look, behaving like an idiot on the roads risking your life and others' is no laughing matter and Ford quite rightly emphasises that this Drift Mode is for "the occasional closed course and racetrack experiences only." And yes, Drift Mode should only be used in such circumstances.
Well let's say I'm at the race track then, what'll it do?
Push a button to enter Drift Mode, stamp on the throttle and turn the steering wheel. Voila! You're Ken Block. The mode apparently makes drift heroes of we mere mortals with that all-wheel-drive and plenty of electrickery doing its stuff. Hop on YouTube and type in "2016 Ford Focus RS drift" and you can see for yourself. Drift hero Ken Block himself even appears in one film: no surprise as he was part of Ford's development team helping perfect the system in this Focus RS.
What's stopping owners using Drift Mode on public roads then?
Common sense and self preservation hopefully. Sustained loss of traction on our roads is illegal so anyone who uses it will be breaking the law and risking their license as well as life. But then there's nothing new here. You can disable the traction control on nearly every car that has it and instigate a drift or loss of traction.
Then there are cars pre-dating any electronic driver aids. Any clown in a 1980s Falcon or Commodore can attempt burnouts and drifts on public roads with nothing there to mop up errors. It's all about driver responsibility whether you have a Drift Mode or not. Always has been.
Okay, back to the car itself. Looks quite aggressive for a family hatchback.
There's no missing it, is there? You get a unique RS front bumper, raised rear spoiler and very racy rear diffuser. There are 19-inch multi-spoke alloys shod in Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber with 350mm front brakes clenched by four-piston Brembo calipers behind. It means business.
It'll need to with that engine I'd say?
Hard to believe the performance you can offer in a road car's four-cylinder these days. The Focus RS's engine shares its block, crankshaft and 2.3-litre capacity with the 2016 Ford Mustang EcoBoost, but has been re-engineered for more power and torque and also sharper acceleration. It does make some delightful burbles and pops through its larger exhaust system too.
Go on then, give me the science behind the chassis, but keep it brief.
Okay, as well as the all-wheel-drive system you get Dynamic Torque Vectoring, meaning the Focus RS can split its torque not only front-to-rear but also side-to-side. Up to 70 percent of available torque can go to the rear axle, but all of that 70 percent can be directed to a single wheel to help you with those track-only drifts.
You get four selectable drive modes altering damping, steering, stability control, engine and exhaust settings. Depending on your mood and road, choose from Normal, Sport, Track and Drift modes.
Did you have a drive then?
Only a brief go, these things are in very high demand with only around 500 coming to Australia this year (which have all already sold). After a mere 40 kilometres of testing I got a taste of the talent on offer here and I can think of few other cars I'd want to take to the hills for a long weekend away.
What did you learn?
True to RS models of the past it still feels very Focus-like inside, so is very familiar. Blue flashes for the stitching, gear shift numbers and dials are performance hints, but the biggest change are the Recaro bucket seats: firm, Alcantara and cosseting.
First part of my drive was highway so I left it in Normal mode and it proved (almost) everyday driveable as it peacefully cruised along with little noise or fuss, if a tad bumpy. Into Sport mode and everything tightens up, the exhaust gets poppier and steering becomes wonderfully sharp.
A few corners and I was hooked. The turbocharged RS rockets up to speed, the manual gearbox brings appreciated involvement and the car inspires such confidence in the turns. Monumental grip and balance, oodles of feedback through the direct steering and there's a playful nature abounding the more you ask of this brilliant Ford.
Left an impression then?
I'm in love and am eager to explore this car a lot more. One for Christmas please, and a private race track for the weekend so I can press that Drift Mode button. And as it's still a family car I can bring the kids.
Model: 2016 Ford Focus RS.
Details: Five-door all-wheel-drive high perfomance hot hatch.
Engine: 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol developing maximum power of 257kW @ 6000rpm and 440Nm (470Nm on overboost) @ 2000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Consumption: 7.7L/100km (combined).
Bottom line plus on roads: $50,990.
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